Spooky season is upon us! Berks County is full of rich history, which means there's bound to be some scary stories to tell. Read at your own risk as we share the tragic events that have made a lasting impact on the area.
Boyertown's Rhoads Opera House Fire
A trip to Boyertown may leave you with a chill down your spine after learning about its horrific past. In 1908, a performance by church members led to a fire at the Rhoads Opera House, taking the lives of over 170 people. The flames were caused by a knocked-over kerosene lamp fueled by a kerosene tank. Despite efforts of the local fire companies, many lives could not be saved.
Weeks after the fire, residents reported hearing screams from the site. One woman claimed that spirits were taking over her house, and a man had to be removed from the grounds when he claimed that his deceased wife wanted to meet him at a certain spot to talk to her (Schneider 1991).
Today, nearby residents still report hearing screams. One story even claims that a woman dressed in fine clothes walks through their apartment every year around the same time, proclaiming to be late for the play (Schneider 1991).
If you want to learn more and see the site for yourself, check out the Boyertown Area Historical Society and Historical Vehicle Museum and visit the gravesite of the lives lost in Fairview Cemetery. While in town, take a fall foliage ride at Colebrookdale Railroad for some incredible views.
Boyertown Area Historical Society is holding Old Soul Strolls! Learn the tales, tragedies, and rejuvenation of the historic and quaint town. Click here for more information.
Don't miss out on Boyertown's Halloween Parade on October 21st!
Lock 49 at Union Canal Towpath
Along the Union Canal towpath in Reading, PA, lies a gruesome story of a murder-suicide committed by an expectant mother with three young children. Lousia Bissinger walked her children to lock 49 East on the towpath, gathered stones in a basket, tied it around her waist, and jumped into the canal while holding the three children. The witness present was unable to save them and they all tragically drowned.
Why would a mother murder her children and take her own life? Louisa's actions are believed to be caused by her husband, Philip's, infidelity and disrespect. After an order to leave the house and leave behind her son, Louisa took matters into her own hands, not wanting any of her children to be raised by Philip's mistress.
It is believed that Louisa and her children still haunt the towpath. Hikers have reported hearing voices and seeing children collecting stones in the vicinity of the drowning. If you're interested in trying to spot their ghosts, walk or bike the towpath and pay attention to the area around lock 49. You can also visit the gravesites of Louisa and her children, along with Philip and his second wife, at Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
You may know Hawk Mountain for its beautiful views, hawk migration, and winding trails, but did you know it is also one of the most haunted places in America?
Once sacred ground to the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans, Hawk Mountain's haunting past began in 1756 with the slaughtering of the Gerhardt family in their cabin by the natives. The only survivor, 11-year-old son Jacob, returned to the area around 1793 to rebuild a home where his family's once was (Popichak 2020). Almost 60 years later, Matthias Schambacher owned the property, establishing it as a tavern for travelers.
Soon after, travelers began disappearing, and locals heard screams coming from the barn. Some stories even suggest that people were being chased away from the property by Schambacher carrying a bloody hatchet. On his deathbed, Schambacher reportedly admitted to murdering at least 11 people, saying he chopped up their bodies, put their remains down wells, and fed them to animals in the woods.
The tavern is not the only haunted story of Hawk Mountain. Locals and visitors of Hawk Mountain have reported hearing moans, screams, and voices while visiting the sanctuary. They have also reported seeing phantom lights and a 10-foot-tall man, possibly associated with the Lenni Lenape tribe.
Schambacher is buried in the New Bethel Union Cemetery, close to Hawk Mountain. Check out his gravesite and drive by the white tavern building when you're out for a spooky excursion. Be sure not to trespass, as it is private property. While hiking the trails and taking in the views of fall foliage, listen closely, and you may just come home with your own story to tell.
Get out in Berks County and explore the haunted secrets it holds this season. Share your stories with us by commenting below!
Livingston, R. H. (2014). The Haunting of Lock 49 East. The haunting of lock 49 east. http://deomnis.net/2014/07/14/the-haunting-of-lock-49-east
Pearson, S. (n.d.). Trapped in the third act: The Rhoads Opera House Fire, Boyertown 1908. Trapped in the Third Act: The Rhoads Opera House Fire, Boyertown 1908 | Pennsylvania Center for the Book. https://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/literary-cultural-heritage-map-pa/feature-articles/trapped-third-act-rhoads-opera-house-fire
Popichak, J., & Bartosz, E. (1967, January 1). Hawk Mountain Hauntings, part 1: Schambacher's tavern. Saucon Source. https://sauconsource.com/2020/10/24/hawk-mountain-hauntings-part-1-schambachers-tavern/